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Changes: Laura Bates

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Annie [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to Changes, it's Annie Macmanus here. This week my guest is Laura Bates. In my opinion, she's one of the most important voices out there in the public sphere campaigning for women's rights all over the UK and beyond. She is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project and a bestselling author of five books. Her latest book, Fix the System, Not the Women, examines the societal systems that fail to protect women and calls for change. It is an astounding read and we're going to cover some of the shocking statistics that the book reveals on this episode. With that, a word of warning that this episode does contain some graphic and upsetting content so if this could be triggering for you, please check the show notes for details. But right now, let's get into it... Laura Bates, welcome to Changes. 

Laura [00:01:03] Thank you so much for having me. 

Annie [00:01:05] It's such a pleasure to have you here. You are someone who, more than nearly anyone we've had on this podcast, fights for change on a daily level. You are on the front line of it. Pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing. Not just telling the world about it but actually actively trying to create change in schools, in the legal system, using your findings for that. What is your relationship with the word change? 

Laura [00:01:29] Ooo, hopeful and also kind of wary, I think. Obviously it's everything that I'm doing and hoping for so you have to feel that it's possible. I think it's easy to feel overwhelmed and to feel that change just isn't possible sometimes, so I have to keep a positive and hopeful relationship with the word, but wary because I think it gets thrown around too much. 

Annie [00:01:58] Mmm, interesting. 

Laura [00:01:58] So I think that really frequently people want to equate publicity of a problem with change, and it's not the same thing. So for example, around MeToo, around certain high profile moments that we've had over the last decade but particularly in the last five years, there are these moments where people say 'oh, everything's changed, everything's changing' and it's not true. The truth is we know a problem and that's huge and that's really important but it isn't actually the change, it's the awareness that comes before the change and we don't necessarily see the follow through at a kind of systemic level. 

Annie [00:02:34] Yeah, and that's something that you push for a lot. So with your Everyday Sexism, is it right that you're kind of the biggest recorded document of sexism? 

Laura [00:02:41] Yeah, it's the biggest dataset of its kind in one place. It's about 250,000 testimonials from people all over the world. 

Annie [00:02:49] Yeah, and that's over ten years old now and I mean, I had to look at it today, it's still going. Even looking at the most recent page, it's still- when you see all these things back to back to back, it's kind of- it's triggering as a woman and it's upsetting, but it's also so powerful to see it all there. And it's you know, it's undeniable. It's indisputable. And that was your original reason for doing it right? To allow people to see that there's a pattern here, it's not personal, it's not isolated, it's universal. And then you talked about using that to then create change within the system so what have you been doing to try and use that data to create change? 

Laura [00:03:27] Well that's actually the part of my job that I love the most, and it's the most exciting. That awareness raising can be transformed into change. So I set out originally with this idea of just not fixing the problem, but getting people to see it, forcing people to acknowledge that actually it does exist. And that kind of shift happened, sort of beyond anything I could have imagined and then it was, how can we take this further? How can we take these stories, these powerful, courageous testimonies offline and use them to make real change? So I think for me, the answer has been to be really targeted. So we took very specific subsections of the entries, we took all the ones from young girls, particularly girls at school who are being harassed and sexually assaulted into parliament and put them in front of ministers, in front of MPs, in front of successive education secretaries, saying at the moment on the curriculum, there was nothing that said that young people had to learn about respect for relationships, about consent even. And we said, here are 25,000 stories, read these stories- 

Annie [00:04:29] *Laughs in disbelief* 25,000. 

Laura [00:04:30] Of 13 year old girls who are being, you know, being sexually assaulted but don't use those words to describe it because no one's ever told them that that's what it is and is not right, and then tell me that we're not failing kids without consent on the curriculum. And it wasn't, of course, just the Everyday Sexism Project, there were lots of brilliant women's organisations that also campaigned and eventually, after years and years, they changed the curriculum so that now sexual consent, healthy relationships, a whole range of stuff is on there that wasn't before, and that felt just so powerful that- I think I didn't want it to feel futile. I know the cost of people sharing their stories with us. I know it's not nothing. I know it's a huge thing and I love the idea of being able to tell them, you know, actually, your bravery in telling this story has prevented another woman or girl from going through the same thing. We did a similar thing with the British Transport Police, we took about 3,000 of the stories that were just from women on buses, trains, public transport, tubes, took them to the British Transport Police and used those stories in their own words to retrain 2,000 officers as part of Project Guardian, to completely transform the way that they dealt with sexual offences. And it made you realise how much women's stories matter. Because if they'd put up messaging on the tube that said, 'we'll take sexual assault seriously, come forward', no one would have come forward because women weren't using those terms. They were saying 'groped', 'grabbed', 'rubbed up against', and they didn't even have that knowledge that that was sexual assault. So it really matters to hear the stories and the initiative raised the reporting of sexual harassment on the transport network by about 30%, and it also increased the detection of offenders crucially by about the same amount. So it's a real tangible change that you can see that has been directly caused by the bravery of women speaking up about their experiences. 

Annie [00:06:21] Where does this all come from, Laura? This impetus, this motivation, this urge to create change. I can imagine it must be hugely frustrating at times and it must involve a massive amount of tenacity and will. 

Laura [00:06:34] I think, like almost every woman I know, for a very, very long time I didn't feel that I could speak up. I didn't feel like I had a voice. 

Annie [00:06:44] What were you like as a kid? Were you that person that put your hand up in class? 

Laura [00:06:47] Yes, but I was very quiet and anxious and nervous and shy socially. And writing this book, one of the tasks I set myself for the book was to write my list, which is like this concept I have that every woman has a list, and they might all look really different but we have these experiences that trail back through our lives to when we were three or four years old, and if we add them up we can see it as a whole. But as a kid, you're constantly being told- and as a younger woman, 'you're overreacting, get over it, that's not sexism. It's not because you're a girl, it just happened. It's just a compliment. Lighten up, take it as a joke. Get a sense of humour. Don't be so uptight. You've imagined it. You're overreacting. You've got the wrong end of the stick. He didn't mean it like that, I'd love it if someone said something like that to me'. And I think there's a real silencing effect and a real shame because if you're taught not to believe that what happened to you is wrong, you blame yourself and you think, 'oh, well, it must be my fault then'. So I think part of it is that kind of roar when you finally, finally, finally find your voice. 

Annie [00:07:47] Yeah. And did you find that was for you? Did you find that you kind of weren't able to speak up when stuff happened to you or even identify that it was wrong? 

Laura [00:07:54] Exactly. Yeah. So looking back and looking at that list when I put it all together, I can now recognise so many things that were completely wrong that never should have happened. And ranging throughout part time jobs where I was sexually harassed by a senior male colleague and then I was pulled into the manager's office to be reprimanded for wearing a short skirt and therefore it being my fault, situations at university where I just felt so small and uncomfortable and embarrassed and humiliated but never had the sense of it being part of something wide enough to be able to be empowered I guess, to have the language to name it. 

Annie [00:08:32] Yeah. 

Laura [00:08:33] You know, being an actress and being sent into rooms and told, 'we've decided to sex it up a bit and now you're taking your top off' by casting directors and all the rest of it. Just so many little things that we are pressured into accepting as normal. And so for me, it wasn't until really quite late on that I had that moment of kind of recognition of what it was. 

Annie [00:08:58] And what was that moment? Was there a catalyst, was there a light bulb moment where you're like, I see this for what it is now? 

Laura [00:09:04] Yeah, absolutely. It was very specifically, it was early 2012, I was living in London, I was working as an actress and I just had a terrible week where the kind of thing that happened quite regularly just happened in a really short space of time. By coincidence three things happened, a man followed me home quite aggressively sexually propositioning me and like really refusing to take no for an answer, making me feel really unsafe, saying 'I'm just going to follow you home and then I'll always know where you live', that kind of thing. 

Annie [00:09:29] Oh God, Laura.

Laura [00:09:29] And a few days later, I was on the bus and the guy sat down next to me and just out of the blue put his hand between my legs. And I was on the phone to my mum when it happened. And if I hadn't been, I think I'd have been so shocked and so scared, I don't think I'd have said anything. But because I was on the phone, I moved away from him and I just blurted out, 'I'm on the bus, this guy just groped me!' and everybody on the bus heard, and everybody looked out the window. Not one person reacted, stepped in, supported, even made eye contact with me. And it just- the normalisation of it just hit me. And I got off the bus at the next stop and I walked the rest of the way home, never told anyone else what had happened. And there was a few days later I was walking down the street and some guys were unloading some scaffolding off the back of a truck and as I walk past really close to them, one of them just very casually turned to the other and said, 'look at the tits on that'. *Laughs* not even her, just 'that'. And it was that week when suddenly at the end of the week it struck me when I was thinking about what a bad week it had been, that if any one of those things had happened in a week on its own, I probably never would have thought twice about it because I was so used to it. It was just so normal. And for the first time ever, I started just very simply asking other women and girls, have you ever experienced anything like this? And their responses just blew me away. I thought a few people would have a story to tell me, you know, maybe from a few years ago and it just wasn't like that. It was every woman I spoke to. And it wasn't one story from a few years ago, it was 'yeah, on my way to meet you just now this happened'. 'I get told to sit on my boss's lap if I want my Christmas bonus'. 'The guys in my office go to a strip club at lunchtime and take clients there, so I just miss out on these deals'. You know, you name it. And I just really couldn't believe what I was hearing and how many of them said, 'wow, until you asked me I've never told anyone any of these stories' because it's just normal, isn't it? And the more women thought about it, the more they would remember things that we've kind of suppressed and half buried and doubted ourselves and never talked about. And that was quite cathartic and powerful. But what was really frustrating was that when I started talking about it people said to me, 'nah, sexism doesn't exist anymore. Women are equal now'. So I had on the one hand, these women pouring out their stories, and on the other hand, men, when I talk to them about it going, 'it doesn't happen. Don't believe it. Don't see it. Don't do it. It's not happening'. And it was this bizarre, jarring disconnect. And that was what made me start the project. It was just this frustration that it was invisible, people didn't know. And I think particularly a kind of critical mass of good men who would never behave in that way themselves, just didn't know it was happening. And so they were quite resistant to the idea that there was anything to be done or that we needed their help, and that was how the project was born. 

Annie [00:12:14] And then when you did launch the project, I can imagine it was quite overwhelming the amount of people who left their messages. 

Laura [00:12:20] It was, yeah, and moving and devastating, particularly just certain things that I hadn't expected. I just didn't expect there to be so many stories from children. 

Annie [00:12:32] Oh Laura! Eugh. 

Laura [00:12:32] So many girls who were, you know, they were talking about being eight or nine when men were shouting things in the street at them that were so explicit they didn't even understand them. Or, you know, you had girls of 14 or 15 who were just routinely being sexually assaulted at school and told 'he just likes you', 'It's just boys being boys', 'you're leading him on, look at what you're wearing'. Girls who said, and still do my school visits, that they are dramatically more likely to be harassed and catcalled if they're wearing their school uniforms than when they're out in their home clothes. And that really shook me. And also, I think the level of shame, like the number of women whose project entries- 

Annie [00:13:12] They start with, 'I'm not sure if this exists'- 

Laura [00:13:15] Exactly. 

Annie [00:13:15] 'I don't know how I feel about it'. 'I don't have any feelings about this but this happened, I just wanted to let you know'. 

Laura [00:13:22] Exactly. The number of people going like, 'I know I'm really lucky. I know people have had it worse, relatively'. There's this real sense of, I don't have any right to complain and it could have been worse because it's been so drummed into us that we should just put up and shut up. And the number of women who had been blamed, especially from their own families, soooo many people had been told 'it was your own fault', you know, 'you silly slut'. There was one woman who was in her eighties and she said that reading these other women's stories was the first time in her life that she'd realised it wasn't her fault. She'd been sexually assaulted when she was in her early twenties, and for her whole life, for decades, she'd been made to carry this burden of being explicitly told this was your fault, and that that outpouring of other voices saying the same thing was the first time she ever felt that relief and lightness of it wasn't, it wasn't okay. 

[00:14:18] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:14:28] So how did your life change upon these years of Everyday Sexism, you know, becoming more and more and more of a bigger platform? You now, your life is very different. You don't act anymore. What does your life look like now as a front line activist? 

Laura [00:14:43] So obviously, it changed really dramatically, but kind of not overnight and always sort of slightly by accident. So I never set out to do anything that I'm doing now. I never started the project thinking it would be what it was now. I thought I'd carry on with my life and it would be this small website with maybe 50 stories on it that I could point to when I got cross in arguements *laughs*. 

Annie [00:15:00] Yeah, yeah. 

Laura [00:15:02] I guess the first big change was stopping acting. For a while I did the two things concurrently and then I got an audition and I remember very vividly in my casting- my agent sent through the casting brief and it was for a music video and they were looking for actors who could play violin and I thought, well that's great, you know, that's a specific thing I can do. And then when the actual breakdown came through, it described how the all female orchestra would be shown in the music video arriving at the Royal Albert Hall, and then they'd be shown taking their clothes off *laughs* and putting on their, you know, concert clothes. And it was so gratuitous, even in that situation. And it was a real moment of clarity of thinking, I can't continue to do these two things anymore because they're just so in opposition. So that was when I stopped. But then there were various changes, shifts that happened. There was a real appetite to hear these stories which were kind of surging out for the first time. So I started writing for The Independent at first and then for The Guardian and then The New York Times and others and that was a big change. And then there was a publisher who said, you know, have you thought about writing a book? Which I hadn't and never kind of dreamed of, and kind of that was another shift. I guess one of the biggest shifts, I think, was becoming a public face of something that I never set out to do. So partly kind of public speaking and in a very hostile environment, you know, it wasn't just becoming the public face of something, it was being invited to come on TV or radio shows where they would very deliberately have someone on to say, 'women are asking for it. Women love this stuff', you know, 'don't you just love being wolf whistled? Don't you take it as a compliment?'. I remember being asked live on air how it felt that I must have no friends because I was so joyless and couldn't take a joke. 

Annie [00:16:43] *Whispers* oh my God. 

Laura [00:16:43] And like, that had a big impact, I think, on how people saw me. Because I think when you work in a kind of activist field, people very much conflate you with your job. You know, that they think it's your whole identity. And I guess the other massive change- lots of that was very positive, of course, like I get to do a job now that I love and I get to work with young people, which is so brilliant. But there were also changes that I never anticipated, that if I had, might have stopped me doing it, like being in a situation now where I live with police protection and, you know, panic alarms, police alarms in my house and all sorts of complexity around that stuff because people- on a really bad day 200 people will send me rape and death threats. And that's just not something I think that you ever imagine yourself living with. 

Annie [00:17:31] And does that happen after you go on television or something like that and you're doing a public facing situation? 

Laura [00:17:38] Yeah, I mean, there's a background noise of it constantly, but then you'll get a blip, you'll go on TV and you get mess- you'll come home and already it'll be 'I just saw you on Sky News and I'd like to use your hair as handlebars and rape you until you die'. That's an example of a real thing that someone sent to me. So it fluctuates. And you just never know when it's going to come, you know, you might have quite a busy day and you're getting on with things and suddenly your phone pings and someone saying, 'I'm outside your house *Annie shivers* and when you get home, I'm going to disembowel you with this knife that I'm sending you a photo of and I'm waiting for you'. So it's really disruptive. 

Annie [00:18:12] Fucking disruptive! *Laura laughs* That's the biggest understatement of 2023! How do you deal?! How does your partner deal? Like, how do you not stop and say, fuck it, I'm just going to write books and- 

Laura [00:18:24] Because if you did that, then you're saying to all of those- like, I work with about 10,000 kids every year, girls at school who are facing all this same stuff on social media and stuff and if I did that, it's like saying to them, like, I'm giving up, it's insurmountable, we're letting them win. And I'm so lucky in so many ways. I have colleagues who are women of colour, who are trans women, disabled women who are getting more abuse than I am, intersectional abuse. There are women around the world who are you know, there are women in Iran who are literally giving their lives fighting this stuff and, you know, try to keep that in perspective, obviously, I'm so lucky in so many ways. And I just feel a real sense of responsibility to the women who share their stories with me, to the girls who I work with to say, we're going to keep fighting this and you know, we are going to be here and it's a collective and we will keep going together and it's shit but we will get through it and things are going to change and improve, because otherwise it's letting them win, you know? 

Annie [00:19:26] So let's talk about them. 

Laura [00:19:27] Yeah. 

Annie [00:19:27] So who are they? 

Laura [00:19:29] The people sending this? Okay so- 

Annie [00:19:31] In your opinion. 

Laura [00:19:32] Well, I've done a lot of research for this because my last book, which is called Many Hate Women, kind of explored who these people are and where they come from and it's a real mixture. It's a kind of- well, it's a form of extremism and it's a form of radicalisation. 

Annie [00:19:46] Absolutely. 

Laura [00:19:46] There are communities of men online who have really been radicalised into very explicit misogynistic extremism. They believe conspiracy theories that MeToo is a witch hunt, that feminism is out to destroy men, that men are the real victims, you know, white men are the oppressed minority of today's society, that women are coming for them, that men everywhere are losing their jobs because of angry women making up spurious allegations. None of it has any basis in truth, but they're really effective in how they're radicalising and kind of drawing in young boys, partly through using social media like a kind of radicalisation machine. You know, these people have always existed, but Andrew Tate telling boys that, you know, you need to slam out the machete and slam a woman up against the wall by her throat and suddenly TikToks boosted his content to 11.4 billion views. So that's a real shift, gear shift in how that radicalisation works. 

Annie [00:20:42] Yeah, in terms of your daily job now, you go to schools a lot right? 

Laura [00:20:46] Yeah. 

Annie [00:20:46] So I'm really interested in how, in the last few years of your working in schools, how you've seen change. Have you seen the results of this curriculum change? Now that they're allowed to talk about consent in the classroom, have you seen any of that change or is it still glacial in terms of how people are? 

Laura [00:21:05] Well, it's very early days because the curriculum change has only come in in the last couple of years. And you're also dealing with a generation who are, I think, still very affected by COVID and their experiences in lockdown. But you're kind of seeing these two changes pushing against each other, which is quite interesting. So the positive change I would definitely say I'm seeing is that young people and particularly girls are activists. They are aware of feminism. They're starting hundreds of new feminist societies across the UK in schools. They're fighting back, they're starting petitions, they're not taking stuff lying down. And that is so exciting. And the possibility feels so exciting that this is a generation of girls who are so aware and brave and that they're speaking out. 

Annie [00:21:54] And they're able to identify. 

Laura [00:21:56] Right. 

Annie [00:21:57] What sexual assault is or, you know-

Laura [00:21:58] Exactly, that I just thought was just the way things were. But, they're up against a generation of boys who are being radicalised in the opposite direction. So it's really common to hear kids at school now coming out with these kind of conspiracy theories and fake statistics. And that's obviously really difficult for the girls that they're coming into contact with. And the real tragedy of it is how harsh it is on the boys as well, because, you know, Andrew Tate wants to kind of- and his ilk, they want to promote any attack on him as an attack on boys, that he's the real kind of defender and champion of boys. But the reality is that everything he's saying a man should be, that boys have to be hard and physically aggressive and dominate and be in control of their partners, is what we know is hurting men. You know, suicide is the leading killer of young men in this country and we know that men who subscribe to those gender stereotypes are dramatically less likely to get mental health support. We know that a boy in this country is 230 times more likely to be raped himself than falsely accused of rape. 

Annie [00:23:00] That statistic blows my mind.

Laura [00:23:02] Which is just mind blowing. 

Annie [00:23:03] But that's the thing it's like, if that was talked about in schools, this idea of boys being victims, boys being susceptible to all of this as well as girls, it kind of puts everyone on the same starting field. 

Laura [00:23:15] Yeah! Totally, and that's what I try to do you know, I talk in schools, we look in real detail about how the same outdated stereotypes have a really negative effect across the gender spectrum. You know, how for every girl who's being told, 'we can't put girls in science labs because they'll cry or fall in love with you because they're hysterical and hormonal', we've got boys being told 'boys don't cry, boys don't talk about their feelings' and not feeling able to open up. So it hurts everybody. 

[00:23:39] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:23:49] In this book, Fix the System, Not the Women, you kind of very carefully take us through all the different systems that we live within and debunk this idea that they are functioning well when it comes to women. I wondered if we could just quickly go through each one if that's okay and just go through the bullet points of that. So education we've discussed. Politics... *laughs* there's a very powerful line in the book where you talk about, you know, we have these empowered women now within politics, but the problem is that the systems around them are still so archaic that they are not ever able to succeed. And I suppose there's a- you have women leading countries, you know, you have Jacinta Adair and you have, I can't remember her name, the woman who runs Finland and, you know, amazing women leading countries, which we didn't used to have in such, you know, numbers before and that's encouraging, but the systems around them are not helping them. 

Laura [00:24:43] Absolutely. And the double standards of the press coverage, it was Sanna Marin, the Finnish prime minister who was, you know, subjected to this kind of witch hunt about, you know, going dancing *laughs*, you know, which is just so funny. Whereas I think if a, you know, if a male leader had done that people would have been praising how cool and, you know, down to earth he was probably. But it's more than that. It's also about the kind of wider impact of institutional gender imbalance. So even now in our parliament, in London, in Westminster, only a third of MP's are women. We still have a whole section of the House of Lords that's only for bishops, and- 

Annie [00:25:19] That bit blew my mind! 

Laura [00:25:20] You know, like, that's completely crazy! They're making laws-!

Annie [00:25:23] Yeah, so I knew about how ridiculously elitist and old school it is, but yeah, so- sorry, explain it. 

Laura [00:25:29] So there's one big section of the House of Lords that can only be bishops *Annie laughs. Yes, women can now be bishops but there's like eight of them *both laugh* so it has a huge impact on the gender imbalance, but also you've got peerages that are handed down, hereditary peerages, which blows my mind that those people are making an impact on our lawmaking anyway, but that aside, a lot of them, the peerage passes down the male line. So again, you've got this inbuilt gender imbalance before you even come on to the ways in which Westminster's archaic and it's set up and its voting hours and its lack of maternity provision. So it isn't set up for people who are caregivers, who are predominantly women. But then even beyond that, at the moment, 56 of our serving MPs, which is about 9% of all of them, are themselves currently under investigation for sexual misconduct, which just blows your mind. And there hasn't been any kind of public transparency about those investigations, about what the allegations are. So these men are continuing to make our laws and meet with vulnerable constituents whilst these investigations are ongoing. We just, we wouldn't accept it in in other walks of life. 

Annie [00:26:38] Absolutely not. 

Laura [00:26:39] It's just completely mind blowing that that is so normal to us in politics that there was a headline about it and now it's just kind of gone quiet and everyone's like, yeah, yeah, they can carry on *laughing* deciding what happens with the country. It's amazing.

Annie [00:26:51] So that's politics. Media then, obviously they're all so enmeshed. 

Laura [00:26:55] They are. So in the media, for example, 84% of the front pages that we read are about a man. Women only write about a quarter of our front pages. Around three quarters of the editors of our national newspapers are men. So men dominate in terms of representation, but also I think in terms of the misogynistic output, it's really reflected. You know, we've got some of our biggest national newspapers running stories suggesting that a senior female politician is crossing and uncrossing her legs to distract the prime minister. It's just a complete misogynistic attack that hasn't got any place in our national news. Or you've got, you know, Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May on the front page of The Daily Mail with the headline Never Mind Brexit, Who Won Legsit? You know, explicitly telling us to forget the politics and compare who's got the sexiest legs. So it's partly about the make up of the people in those institutions, but it's also about the output as well. 

Annie [00:27:52] *Takes breathe* Justice system *laughs* sorry, Laura, I'm just firing these things at you.

Laura [00:27:58] In the criminal justice system, 1.4% of rape cases reported to the police in this country result in a charge or summons. So it really isn't hysterical or overreacting to say that rape has been decriminalised, and yet nobody is kind of looking at really sweeping judicial reform and saying, this isn't a system that's fit for purpose. You know, we've got people who are in court- it's hard for people because we're so used to it, you have to kind of do comparisons to get people to see how absurd it is. So you have to say to people, just imagine if someone had been the victim of arson and in court someone went through their mobile phone which they'd confiscated as if they were somehow on trial, and came up with a picture from ten years ago on social media and said, well, actually you went to a bonfire party, so you obviously really enjoy this. You must have loved seeing your house go up in flames *Annie laughs*. It's just seems absurd and yet this is literally what's happening all the time with survivors of sexual violence. It's not a system that works for rape and for male violence. 

Annie [00:28:57] I'm wondering with the met police and Baroness Casey review, your opinions on that, because she seemed, from my perspective which is not that knowledgeable, like someone with a lot of common sense and someone speaking in the way that you should speak about these things, just really direct, really like refusing to accept anything that's not direct. 'No, this is institutional', obviously they couldn't accept that but- 

Laura [00:29:19] No, I think it was great but that's the problem, isn't it? So it was a good review. I think it was really clear on just how bad the institutional misogyny and racism is, and I think the recommendations were really strong. But what remains to be seen is whether it gets implemented. And when the first response to that review is to say, 'actually, no, we're not institutionally misogynistic', 'we're not institutionally racist'. 

Annie [00:29:41] 'So I agree with everything, but I just- that word institutional, I don't know'.

Laura [00:29:46] That's such a tone, I think, in the response. And you can't possibly argue against the numbers, you know, in a four year period 2,000 met officers were accused of sexual misconduct. We're told that Wayne Cousins and David Carrick-

Annie [00:29:58] And that's just the people that were reported. 

Laura [00:29:59] Exactly, that they were bad apples, they were baddens and, you know, nobody could have seen them coming. But he was literally nicknamed 'The Rapist' by his colleagues. He'd been reported for indecent exposure three times and if it had been taken seriously and vetting procedures, then he wouldn't have been on duty the night that he abducted and murdered Sarah Everard. So it's- I think it's really frustrating, particularly with policing, that the systemic misogyny is so demonstrably there. You know, over half of met police officers who are found guilty of sexual misconduct keep their jobs. Only 1 in 18 met officers accused of sexual assault ever faces a formal investigation. The numbers are so shocking. I think were brought up kind of often being taught that these are kind of infallible, immutable structures in our society, you know, that you can't change policing, that criminal justice is just kind of there and it must be kind of doing the right job and getting the right outcomes and I think it's hard for people to get their head around the idea that actually these systems sometimes need to be torn down and changed. 

Annie [00:31:06] Can I bring it to the very mundane, everyday situation that most of our listeners are in who are in heterosexual relationships, who might be parents, and just talk about misogyny within the home and how our upbringings and the systems around us have kind of shaped how we conduct our relationships. 

Laura [00:31:28] Yeah, I mean, it's really tragic because I think even within really forward thinking relationships, even amongst kind of, you know, really progressive people, we're still stuck in these patterns. So we know that women, for example, are still doing 70 minutes more domestic work a day than men on average, which really adds up. We know that there remain these assumptions, these really difficult to shift assumptions about women taking on the burden of unpaid childcare and other forms of caring work: domestic labour, cooking, cleaning. We know that women are dramatically less likely to have orgasmed in their last sexual encounter than men are, which might feel like it's a very different topic but actually I think it's all part of the same kinds of inequality. You know, we sort of have these ideas about women's sexual appetites and what women are allowed to ask for and expected to talk about and speak up about in their intimate relationships as well and it's really, really hard to break out of patterns that are so prescriptive and so societally widespread. If a man and woman were going to be starting a new job, and they were both expected to kind of do it in the same way, but then on top of that the women had to take on a separate job that was going to be kind of about, you know, a significant number of hours every day, we wouldn't expect them to have exactly the same output in the first job because obviously she's doing all this extra stuff. But in life, we don't take that into account. We judge men and women and expect women to be doing exactly the same thing at work. But we also expect women to just somehow magically have the capacity to doing all this extra work at home. And we expect women to parent as if they don't have a career and to work as if they don't have kids. 

Annie [00:33:05] I know so many women whose husbands are just a bit useless and it's kind of like, it's a given, it's like they're just a bit useless, it's better if I do it myself, I can do the work quicker, yes they do it, but they just do it- they don't know how to clean the kitchen properly, their cooking's not great. They always forget the homework. If I leave them for the weekend, it's chaos when I come back. Now, what would you say to that? Like, how do you get over that? *Laura laughs* Is there a way to get over that? Because that's on the woman too, because she has her standards that are not his. 

Laura [00:33:34] Well, yeah, except that it's also about the fact that people who have kind of never done a particular form of labour are going to take some practice. And it's also on men, I think, to be stepping up and saying, actually I need to get better at this. I recently heard this term 'weaponized incompetence' and I think that is so accurate. 

Annie [00:33:50] Oh my God, Laura *laughs*. 

Laura [00:33:50] I think a lot of the time it is deliberately, you know, used and exaggerated. 'Oh, well, I could do it, but you know I won't do such a good job as you', you know or, 'oh well, I'm just not very good at this stuff'. 

Annie [00:34:01] Or it's like, 'will you do more work?' 'What do you want me to do then?!'. As in it's on the woman to- 

Laura [00:34:07] Exactly! To be the manager and have the emotional labour in her head of knowing what all the tasks are and then to also take the time to be handing the tasks out, which is so flawed because partly there's all that extra mental load which isn't being taken into account, but also it turns her then into like the nag, the demanding ballbreaker, the harpy. And you just think, well no, because you should be equally taking part in the mental admin of knowing what needs to be done. 

Annie [00:34:32] I'm so interested in why- I always go back to the mental load because I'm a clear example of that person, you know, why is it that there is this pattern where women are the ones who mentally take on this and do it and men don't? 

Laura [00:34:46] It's partly societal. So it's a very clear pattern, for example, where schools will ring the mum, no matter how many times they've been told that dad's the primary care giver or they've got both numbers on the file, you know, that's a good example of how society pushes us in those directions. The same if you look at kind of parental leave, that statutory paternity leave is two weeks and the statutory maternity leave is, you know, nine months or whatever so, partly society pushes us in those directions. It tells us this is what we expect from you, this is how things are set up, this is what you're expected to do. Women who don't take on that burden are judged by society. You know, look at the number of headlines, for example, saying, you know, women are to blame for their kids not eating enough vegetables or, you know, mums this and mums that. Dads don't get that same kind of pressure. Partly when dads do do the bare minimum, we tend to praise them, 'oh, isn't he good?' and 'oh look at him babysitting' and all of this nonsense. And then it's partly what we're used to. It perpetuates. 

Annie [00:35:44] You see it growing up. 

Laura [00:35:45] You see it growing up and so you take on board- and not just in your own family, but also when you're watching a cartoon or an advert. Think how many cleaning adverts have historically been based on the idea that, you know, the man is such an idiot and gets it all wrong because why would he have a clue how to do it? Or, you walk into the toy store and you see a cleaning set and a cookery set and a baby doll, and they're all in a pink aisle that says girls toys. There's so many influences pushing us in that direction, but it doesn't mean that we can't snap out of it and I think it's really important that we don't say it's women's fault. You know, 'women need to ask for more' or, you know, men need to do more. Men need to be coming to this conversation as well. 

Annie [00:36:24] So they need to recognise that they're not doing enough and say 'I want to do more'. 

Laura [00:36:28] Yeah, exactly. 

Annie [00:36:29] I mean, that would be the dream. 

Laura [00:36:32] *Laughs* Yeah. 

[00:36:42] *Short musical interlude* 

Annie [00:36:42] In terms of parenting, not all of our listeners are parents but, you know, I presume a lot of our listeners will have children in their lives. We are from a generation- I got my first mobile phone when I was 19, I'm so grateful for that, that you know, I didn't have a smartphone for most of my twenties. It's very hard to understand how children think and what is going into their minds when they consume what they consume, which most of us really don't know because it's hard to keep stock of all that. How do you, in your opinion, help children grow up in this world? As a mother of two sons, I'm curious, I want to lead by example so I want them to see a woman who's comfortable in her skin, who feels strong, who works loads, who loves her job, who has an equal relationship with her partner at home, but apart from just leading by example, I suppose, what else can we do? 

Laura [00:37:32] I think the first thing is acknowledging that bizarre gap, because there's been this seismic change that we haven't really acknowledged as a society. We're this unique moment in history that's never happened before, will never happen again, that we don't very often recognise, which is that a generation of digital natives are being parented and educated by a generation of non digital natives right now. And that is absolutely massive, just in terms of awareness of what their lives and the landscape of their online world looks like. So a good example, I would say, is when I'm talking about online porn and its impact on young people, when you talk to parents and teachers quite often there's this kind of unwillingness to engage and this kind of sense of, well, you know, we had FHM and Loaded and, you know, Playboy, and there's this idea that what kids are seeing online is an online version of that, of a kind of naked centrefold. And actually, there's a really powerful report that's just come out from the Children's commissioner's office that showed that 79% of 18 to 21 year olds say that they saw sexually violent porn as kids before they were 18. We know that one eighth of the videos that are promoted to first time users of the biggest, most mainstream porn websites show rape, coercion or otherwise illegal acts. So the porn, what we're talking about when we talk about online porn and the impact it's having on kids who are age 13 on average when they first see it now, is that it's showing women being hurt, being assaulted, being degraded, being humiliated, and then you go into schools and you talk to kids and they say things like 'rape is a compliment, really' or you meet a 13 year old girl who says, 'I cry every night because I'm so scared of having sex, because I saw this video on a boy's mobile phone and now I know that when you have sex, the woman has to be hurting and crying'. And you just- I was in a school where they'd had a rape case involving a 14 year old boy, and a teacher said to him, 'why didn't you stop what you were doing when she was crying?' and he said, 'because it's normal for girls to cry during sex' because that's what he'd seen online. That is a completely different experience of growing up and I think if we don't bridge that gap, then there is no hope of being able to support them through it. So that's just one example, but kind of you could say the same about social media, about all of this kind of extremist misogyny. I think the first step for adults is to familiarise themselves with it a bit. Like, go on Tik Tok, get a Tik Tok account, type in something about women on YouTube and see what the algorithm presents to you as the kind of recommended videos. Set your settings on social media to say that you're a 14 year old boy and see what the algorithm serves up to you. Have a look at some of the kind of men's content on Reddit. Have a look at some bodybuilding forums. Do a bit of gaming and listen to kind of what's happening over the livestream and you'll start to get a sense. And until you have that idea of what your kids are facing, it's hard to know how to support them. 

Annie [00:40:27] Yeah. 

Laura [00:40:28] And supporting them doesn't have to look like one big terrifying conversation when they're 16 and it's all happened already. It's actually from the very beginning, little, tiny, little and often, you know, it's teaching children of two or three that they have control over their own bodies and they get to choose what happens to their body. It's teaching kids that they don't have to kiss and hug uncles and male relatives if they don't want to, you know, that they can choose to high five or to shake hands or to wave. It's giving them bodily autonomy. It's picking up on those little sexist moments in the toy stall signage or, you know, in a magazine and pointing out and just showing them that they can challenge it. It's little things, I think, and just opening up that communication that they can talk to you about it. 

Annie [00:41:14] Yeah, I guess what's so important is like, allowing them to see that not everything is always right just because it's printed in a magazine, or just because they see it online, it's not always true. 

Laura [00:41:23] Exactly. 

Annie [00:41:24] And they can challenge that. 

Laura [00:41:25] Because otherwise kids tend to absorb what they see in the world around them as facts. So, if you've got your kid in the trolley and you're going down the magazine aisle and they've just recently learned to read and they can see under the heading Men's Mags, they've got The Economist and The National Graphic and The New Scientist and under Women's they've got celebrity, diet and gossip, like, we can look at that as adults and go, well actually that's ridiculous because I, you know, read The Economist or whatever it is, but as a child you don't have that thought process. You look at that and you go, this is what's for women and that's what's for men. And it really affects their idea. 

Annie [00:42:00] Yeah. I would love our listeners to be able to go away today- obviously, we're all suitably enraged because we've just heard that litany of statistics which is very frustrating, but I think we all recognise as well, so much of what you're saying and it's very hard not to, and it would be a good practice maybe if you are listening to do what Laura asks at the beginning of her book, Fix the System, Not the Women, which is maybe write that list, as horrible as it is, write the list of whenever in your life from when you were a young child you felt belittled or sidelined or made to feel small or uncomfortable, or even worse, been a victim of violence at the hands of men or the system around men. And look at it all and then think, how do you want the children in your life to not have to go through that? And in terms of that, I mean, the online stuff I think is crucial, and I think a lot of people listening might be like, but I don't know how to log into the games, I don't know about- and this is the problem that we're facing because there's a huge ignorance in that. But maybe it's about learning. Learning is incredibly life affirming. It will make you feel great. It will make you feel empowered. So get your kids to teach you, they'll love that. They'll love to have you involved in what they're doing. So that's a good thing. In terms of also how to make change in our daily lives, how we as listeners can genuinely try and enable change, what can we do? 

Laura [00:43:25] So I think for me it's all about the power of that collective voice. The reason that Everyday Sexism has had the impact it has is because of a quarter of a million people together speaking out. And I think what we want to see institutional change, that collective voice becomes really important because they only listen when there's enough public pressure. So what I would say is, there are some really brilliant campaigning organisations who are trying to have this institutional impact. A Centre for Women's Justice is a really good example of that, who've been campaigning, for example, for a statutory inquiry into misogyny across policing. Really sharing their petitions, joining their campaign, supporting them is a really good way to channel our collective rage and to institutional pressure. There's also another organisation called Rights of Women, there's a feminist campaign organisation called Level Up, there's Women For Refugee Women, which is fighting for the rights of refugee women, particularly those in detention. These are all organisations where if enough of us get behind them, it gives them a really big impact because it shows that enough of us care to really demand change. 

Annie [00:44:35] And we'll put links to all of those in the show notes so anyone can access them. And what about the men in our lives? 

Laura [00:44:43] *Laughs* so there's a lot for men to do here. 

Annie [00:44:45] First of all, get them to listen to this and to read the book. Honestly like, if you get every man in your life, your brother, your dad, your partner, if you're heterosexual get them to read this book and it's very undeniable. Like it will be very enlightening for them. Even people who feel like they are enlightened I think will be shocked. 

Laura [00:45:03] And yeah, and hopefully men taking on some of the burden of starting these conversations. So men telling other men to read the book so it's not just down to women. Men who are teachers and senior leaders in school getting involved in leading the assemblies on this stuff and starting the discussion so it's not just left to female staff. Men in the workplace taking action to ask about sexual harassment policies, because they might not have experienced it directly but it might be a hell of a lot easier for them to chase up, you know, what is the policy? Why isn't it more prominently on the website than for someone who's been a victim of it.

Annie [00:45:37] The scary thing is it might happen quicker as well if they asked, that's the depressing thing. 

Laura [00:45:41] Exactly yeah, men talking to the boys in their lives about these things. You know, think twice about talking to the girl in your life about not wearing a short skirt and instead have a chat with a young man in your life about consent and respect and, you know, sexual violence, role modelling, different forms of masculinity, role modelling in that domestic sphere to your sons and daughters what it looks like for a man to be really involved in the mental load. You know, take action, arrange the next playdate, be the one that goes out and gets the birthday presents, you know, do the kind of Christmas shopping, planning, just something that never necessarily would have occurred to you to do, be proactive, don't wait to be asked. 

Annie [00:46:22] When David Carrick got sentenced- David Carrick being the policeman, the most recent high profile case in terms of a policeman taking advantage of his power and abusing and raping women for years, torturing women. So he's gone to jail for at least 30 years and the judge in the case, Mrs. Justice Cheema Grubb said 'the malign influence of men like you in positions of power stands in the way of a revolution of women's dignity'. I thought that was very lovely, this idea of a revolution of women's dignity and I wondered if you feel that. Do you feel like there is a revolution happening? Do you feel like- can you see it? 

Laura [00:47:02] I think so. I see it in schools, I see it at marches and rallies and campaigns. I see it with the number of girls who are fighting back in a way that just wasn't the case when I was at school. But still, the single most common reason that women give for being involved in this kind of thing, or the single most common reason that women give for reporting a rape is to protect other women from falling victim to the same person. And I think even now, what that revolution looks like is fighting for other people. And I want people to feel that they have the right to be fighting for themselves as well. 

Annie [00:47:41] Can I ask before we go, for anyone who is still blurry about that, what is the definition of sexual assault? 

Laura [00:47:48] So this is what I wish I had known that night on the bus, because I think we often conflate sexual assault and rape. So a lot of what we're taught is just boys being boys, stuff we should just put up with. Actually, we are absolutely legally protected from people of any gender. So the law on sexual assault in the UK says if a person touches another person- the touching can be anywhere on their body, doesn't have to be just genitals, if the touching is sexual in nature, the person being touched doesn't consent and the person doing the touching doesn't have reason to believe that they consent, then that's sexual assault. 

Annie [00:48:22] Which is vast, actually, if you think about your own experiences. 

Laura [00:48:26] Yeah. 

Annie [00:48:27] Okay. I would really like Laura to talk about something that is not this today *Laura laughs* because you have a lovely reason to talk about something different. Because you are a writer, a beautiful writer, and these books are just incredible. But you're going to write something different. 

Laura [00:48:42] Yes. This is a change that was really positive for me, actually. It came about when I was working in schools and I suddenly realised that at the age of the young people I was working with, I wouldn't have been reading non-fiction books, I wouldn't have known what the word feminism meant, but I was devouring novels and absorbing a lot of messages and ideas about the world from them. So I suddenly realised that I could write about these kinds of ideas and these kinds of issues for a young adult audience in fiction, and it was a completely different way to reach them. So at the moment I'm writing a book which is really exciting, it's called Sisters of Sword and Shadow, it's coming out in November and it's a kind of re-imagining of the period of King Arthur if there were also female knights. The idea being that, you know, who writes history? How do any of us really know what was going on? And actually, if there was a completely incredible, powerful band of female knights that were kind of running around and defeating men left, right and centre, what if the men that they defeated never told anybody because they were too embarrassed and ashamed? *Laughs*.

Annie [00:49:51] I love it. That's going to be so great. We'll have to talk to you about that when it comes out as well, and I'm glad you're getting to write something fun! 

Laura [00:49:59] Me too! 

Annie [00:49:59] And it must be very cathartic to be able to write that as well. 

Laura [00:50:01] It is, yeah. 

Annie [00:50:02] Listen, thank you so much for today. I really appreciate it. Everything Laura mentioned, we will put in the show notes. Obviously a link to the book as well, it's called Fix the System, Not the Women. It is a must buy. It is a must read for you and the men in your life. And Laura, just to say thank you on behalf of all the women in my life and myself, thank you for all the work you're doing. Thank you for putting up with the awful things that you do to spread awareness on this. I think you're amazing. So thank you. 

Laura [00:50:31] Thank you so much. 

Annie [00:50:36] Do please rate, review and subscribe to Changes. It is so appreciated and if you fancy sharing it on social media too, that would be amazing. The more people we can get listening to these episodes, the better. We want to tell our stories far and wide. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Thanks for listening!